Over the course of its history, metal has become dense, convoluted. In attempts to display varying degrees of artistic competency, bands have woven together more ornate orchestration of instruments, more intertwined and breakneck melodies. Artists have tried to outdo each other's complexity, to create the perfect mix of sound and fury.
Then, there's a band like Viking Skull.
On their new album "Doom, Gloom, Heartache and Whiskey," Viking Skull puts together a collection of power anthems with a lot of sound and fury, but very little orchestration. What the beats lack in speed they make up for in audacity. Each song pounds out its simple message of death, drinking or loyalty, and the album continues on unhindered.
I was surprised to find out that some of the members of Viking Skull were also affiliated with CKY, since I find the latter to be nigh unpalatable. The two sounds however, could not be more different. Viking Skull is a kindred soul with the early work of Clutch, blues-based metal like Nine Pound Hammer (without the country influences,) or even last year's personal favorite, The Cursed.
Honestly, I wish there was more metal that sounded like this. It's so easy to get lost in the intricacies and theatrics of most modern metal. All too often we overanalyze and inspect every iota, every pitch, and every note. Sometimes, you just need to hear some metal that was clearly written around several cases of beer, and then pounded onto a recording without thought of complexity or artistry. The album revels in its straightforward simplicity.
Viking Skull gives us ample opportunity to remember that metal is a harsher, more cynical but ultimately just as fun cousin of the blues. The riffs are predictable, but they work. The first three tracks in particular, "Start a War," the title track, and "In Hell," don’t try anything new. They don’t really have to, either. The title track, while not pushing the envelope, ties together a number of catchy elements, from a great beginning riff to a pounding breakdown, and that’s pretty much the tone for the whole album.
To that end, there are a couple small knocks on this album. For one, the songs tend to blend together a little. I prefer the first half of the album, but I wonder if that’s only because it’s the half I heard first. The second half doesn’t do anything the first half doesn’t, and so it seems to kind of roll over itself. Also, the album is too short. I realize that I shouldn’t expect a grand opus from a band comprised mostly of beer-swilling roadies, but it runs a total of thirty-seven minutes, and the last song “Drink” is a seven minute piano diddy about getting so drunk you soil yourself. Mildly humorous, but it could have been two minutes, and they could have crammed another song on there.
The real highlight is the tune “In Hell,” where the band not only sounds tightest, but gets the tempo right, and then pays homage to Black Sabbath in the end (and you can’t tell me that plodding riff’s not supposed to be a take on “Iron Man.”) It is my vain hope that this band tours the states and I get to see this song in action.
I’m glad I added this album to my collection, it’s a lot of fun, and has precisely the right attitude for the type of music it is (like The Sword, I now have to go backward through their catalogue. Why am I always a step behind?) Viking Skull “gets it,” that metal can be more about being loud and having fun and not caring what anybody thinks then maintaining some overwrought, pretentious image. When it’s all over, this album isn’t quite as complete a package as The Cursed’s “Room Full of Sinners,” but I still heartily recommend it to metal fans, especially followers of Clutch, Pantera, et al.